Is There a Best Way to Think About the Future of Earth?


A screenshot of a feature on Inverse title

Émile Torres spends a lot of their time thinking about the end of the world as we know it — and how to avoid it. To some, this kind of theorizing and strategizing might seem like a grand exercise in anxiety spiraling or perhaps even hubris. But for Torres, studying the last of things, in their case, the last of humanity, is their life’s work. It is essential, they argue, to consider how we might end.

“Existential ethics,” they explain, “is my term for questions about whether our extinction would be right or wrong to bring about if it happened.”

This might not seem like the best way to think about the future of human life on Earth. In fact, it is pretty fatalistic on the surface. But take a beat and Torres’ philosophy of the future is less nihilistic than it might seem. Instead, it might offer a blueprint for a better way to think about the future that doesn’t neatly fall into the big competing thought camps of climate doom, human or machine-led annihilation, or more optimistic longtermism.

“My approach is to take the future seriously,” they explain to Inverse. But what that means is a little counterintuitive. When we think about the future, we tend to either think in the very short term (what’s for lunch?) or the very long term (the year 30,000 C.E.). Put in these terms, to secure a better future for humans, the long-term mindset is appealing: Prioritizing future generations means putting challenging issues, like climate change, artificial intelligence, and global inequality ahead of immediate needs, like hunger or shelter. Maximizing human potential, as envisaged by prominent longtermists like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, is the driving force behind the push to put more humans in space and break technological boundaries. But Torres is more concerned with the indiscernible middle-to-long term.

And, they argue, spending more time thinking about the future in this way could help us live better here and now — and avoid catastrophe.

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